Maine's Hunger Crisis
We have had numerous Commissioners of Education or Acting Commissioners since I became MEA President three and a half years ago. Stephen Bowen, Jim Rier, Rachelle Tome, Tom Desjardin, Bill Beardsley, and now Paul LePage. All of them were appointed in one manner or another to the top state leadership position in education regardless of proven educational leadership and experience. It would definitely be nice to know that whoever our leader is has achieved a certain level of honesty, vision, inspiration, communication, and commitment to public education through proven educational leadership.
Honesty - Maine educators must have a leader who is honest and who can be trusted to support public educators and public schools, colleges and universities. Trust is enhanced by the individual's history of ethical behavior and compassion toward our students and educators. Certainly honest, ethical behavior must be a cornerstone to the appointment, and any deviation from that should be scrutinized closely before moving forward with the final decision. The commissioner must be vigilant for our students' sakes, and s/he must be beyond reproach in the areas of safety and protection of every student in every school or university.
Vision - Our commissioner must have a solid vision for public education. We are at a crossroads, with many special interests trying to push corporate, religious, and other values into the space reserved for publicly operated schools. This visionary must be able to see a clear path ahead for our community-run schools, community colleges and universities. S/He must be able to stand up to those who would attempt to bring down or privatize public education. S/He must be able to separate personal ideology from decisions that will affect factual and scientifically-based teaching and learning. The long-term vision must represent the interests of all Mainers in supporting and maintaining locally operated schools, run by locally elected school boards and qualified local school leaders. And the vision must include our colleges and universities as the focal point for preparing students for the future.
Inspiration - We must have a leader who is an inspiration to those who choose to work in education in Maine. The commissioner must have the skills to develop an environment of continuous improvement, a background and full understanding of public schools and public universities, and the ability to build confidence in our communities and our schools that the profession of teaching is admirable, ethical, and sustainable. We must avoid those who would seek to embarrass or denigrate our educators or students.
Communication - It is imperative that the next commissioner listens to the concerns and ideas voiced by practitioners from higher education to preschool. There is no one who knows more about what is happening in classrooms than our classroom educators. Communication comes to a standstill when personal attitudes and animosities interfere with honest, open discussion or when the commissioner pillories the MEA and our members, publicly or behind the screen of media attacks, tweets and emails. Any policy or curriculum decision that is made should have representation from the Associations representing professional educators, as well as parents, community leaders, business leaders, and researchers, when warranted. We must have a commissioner who is able to take in information, process in a non-judgmental way, and make decisions that will always benefit our students first and foremost.
Commitment - The Education Commissioner must be committed to public schools, the publicly elected individuals who lead them, and the public employees who work in them. We must have a commissioner who has spent his/her career in public education. That commitment is necessary to keep education from becoming a political football tossed about by whatever bureaucrat lands in the end zone and who represents partisanship rather than what is best for our students. We must have a commissioner who understands our profession.
Obviously there are plenty of other attributes that our next Commissioner of Education must have. At the least, isn't it essential to have one that displays honesty, vision, inspiration, communication and commitment?